Poet's Pick April 14
John Keats: "After Dark Vapours Have Oppressed Our Plains"
Selected by Rex Wilder
National Poetry Month 2017

Letter from the Editors

Dear Readers,

Our thanks to Rex Wilder for today's Poet's Pick!

This year, a special celebration for our 20th Anniversary Fund Drive during National Poetry Month: every day in April we present a Poets’ Picks feature from years gone by. Please help us to continue our service to you and to poetry by making a tax-deductible contribution to Poetry Daily! Click here to find out how you can contribute online or by mailing a check or money order.

Thank you so much for your support! Enjoy today's special poem and commentary from 2003!

Warmest regards,

Don Selby & Diane Boller

Rex Wilder's Poetry Month Pick, April 14, 2017

"After Dark Vapours Have Oppressed Our Plains"
by John Keats (1795-1821)

After dark vapours have oppress'd our plains
      For a long dreary season, comes a day
      Born of the gentle South, and clears away
From the sick heavens all unseemly stains.
The anxious month, relieved of all its pains,
      Takes as a long-lost right the feel of May;
      The eyelids with the passing coolness play
Like rose leaves with the drip of Summer rains.
The calmest thoughts come round us; as of leaves
      Budding—fruit ripening in stillness—Autumn suns
Smiling at eve upon the quiet sheaves—
Sweet Sappho's cheek—a sleeping infant's breath—
      The gradual sand through an hour-glass runs—
A woodland rivulet—a Poet's death.


* Rex Wilder Comments:
The poem may look perfect, but in fact only the form is. Keats is fatigued from a long winter preceding the publication of his first book, and suffering from writer’s block in the first month of the year. He is blindsided by this remarkable “day / Born of the gentle South” and practically forced at penpoint to record the feeling. After the first octet, hung with some of the most beautiful lines he ever wrote (such as ‘The anxious month, relieved of all its pains, / Takes as a long-lost right the feel of May’), he seems to run out of poetic direction and finds himself relying on the plain, invisible frame of the sonnet’s form itself.

This is where the poem makes me catch my breath. Filled with Dickensonian dashes and startling, disparate images — including many brushstrokes that anticipate ‘To Autumn’ — the poem is Keats the Poet as Keats the Cowboy. He’s trying to rope the mood. For his sake, but also for ours. If he can succeed, the moment is not lost. It’s the sport of immortality, but only the spectators do not die.

Image after image miraculously appears, seven times in the last five-and-a-half lines of the poem. And by the time the sonnet has turned the corner on its fourteenth line, I’m exhausted with gratitude, ready to sail away like a paper boat on Keats’ ‘woodland rivulet.’ And then he hits me with that famous waterfall-around-the-bend, ‘a Poet’s death.’ I’m left, after every reading, churning in the foam of the poet’s accomplishment, and reinvigorated for whatever my 21st century day has left for me: picking up the kids from school, invoicing a client, doing my taxes.

Rex Wilder:
Rex Wilder has two books out from Red Hen Press, Waking Bodies and Boomerangs in the Living Room. Open Late: The Collected Poems 1979-2017 is forthcoming from Chatwin Books. He lives in Venice, California.

Don't forget! If you enjoy our regular features and special events like this one, please join Rex Wilder in supporting Poetry Daily by making a tax-deductible contribution.